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Confederate Mills Rise From the Ashes as Luxury Lofts

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Here now, Past Lives, in which Curbed explores what some of the country's most interesting residential buildings used to be before they became livable homes. Care to suggest a building with a fascinating past life? Do drop us a line.

Eagle & Phenix has plenty of what any luxury loft development worth its exposed beams should have: industrial concrete floors, gorgeous downtown views, 24-hour security and a fine dining establishment on the premises.

If it were located in an old warehouse in a major coastal city, Eagle & Phenix might not even be noteworthy. Fortunately for residents, that's not the case.

Overlooking the banks of the Chattahoochee River separating Georgia from Alabama, Eagle & Phenix is part of an urban revival taking place in Columbus, Ga. The city in west-central Georgia is a place most Americans probably haven't heard of, but they should. In 2013, the metro area population, which includes five counties on both sides of the river, was ranked as the ninth-fastest growing in the U.S. It's home to the world's longest urban whitewater rafting course and the Riverwalk, a 14-mile paved trail along the river, both of which Eagle & Phenix residents can see from their windows.

It's a long way from how the Eagle & Phenix started life. In 1851, William H. Young established the Eagle Mills to process cotton. After he absorbed the nearby Howard Factory in 1860, the Eagle became the second largest mill in Georgia. Perhaps not surprisingly, this placed it in a prime position to become a major producer of material for Confederate uniforms. When the very last battle of the Civil War was fought in Columbus in 1865 (a week after Lee's surrender at Appomattox, thanks to poor communication) the Eagle was burned to the ground.

Four years later, the Eagle was rebuilt and renamed the Eagle & Phenix to symbolize its rebirth out of the not-so-figurative ashes. Over the next two decades, the mills thrived and became the largest in the South. But by 1896, they again hit hard economic times and were purchased by local businessman G. Gunby Jordan. One of his board members, W.C. Bradley, purchased the mills in 1915 and owned them until 1947, when a period of flux began for the Eagle & Phenix. In the years to follow, it would change hands numerous times and eventually fall into disrepair.

Fast forward to 2003. The board of the W.C. Bradley Company—yes, that W.C. Bradley—was looking for opportunities to invest in Columbus' burgeoning downtown revival. They bought the property in late 2004, held focus groups, and were more than a little surprised by the amount of enthusiasm coming from the community.

"There was lots of excitement," said Leah Braxton, vice president of brokerage services. "We certainly felt that the risk of it being torn down was too great to happen, so we stepped in and bought it. We call it going back to our roots."

In July 2008, the first Eagle & Phenix condo was sold in Mill Number Three, the first of the six buildings in the complex to be renovated. Since then, apartments have opened in W.C. Bradley's former office building and in Mill Number Two. Another 29 apartments are set to open next month in Mill Number One, and there is a waiting list for showings.

Pricing is a lot more accessible than people in the area may think, Braxton said. Condos start at just under $260,000, although some residents have chosen to spend closer to $1M by purchasing neighboring condos and knocking out the walls.

But the Eagle & Phenix's story is far from complete. There are still more buildings to renovate, along with more than six acres that haven't yet been touched but could become anything from a hotel to more residential or commercial properties in the future, Braxton said.

For now, W.C. Bradley is actively courting businesses and restaurants to join Epic, the restaurant that opened on the premises in 2012."Those are all proven operators, not just somebody who came down here with a dollar," Braxton said. "These are folks who could go anywhere they wanted and chose to come to downtown Columbus."

—Caroline Keyser

· All Past Lives columns [Curbed National]
· Eagle & Phenix Mills [official site]